Video: How the Punjab first came to a Yorkshire mill town

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WHEN Rashid Chowdry arrived in Yorkshire from Pakistan in 1960, he was virtually penniless, didn’t know a soul and couldn’t speak much English.

Soon afterwards he landed a job as a bus conductor and, having saved much of his earnings, was able to set up a corner shop.

Mrs Zakia Chowdry and son in law Naseer Ahmad who now runs Punjab Stores, Huddersfield

Mrs Zakia Chowdry and son in law Naseer Ahmad who now runs Punjab Stores, Huddersfield

It was 1963, a momentous year in global terms but in Huddersfield a little bit of history was being made as Mr Chowdry opened the town’s first Asian shop.

Fifty years on and Punjab Stores in Springwood is still going strong thanks to three generations of the same family who continued the business when Mr Chowdry died in 1999.

One of the youngest, 25-year-old Zayd Ahmad, works there part-time and is keen to continue the long-standing family tradition.

“It’s good to work in a family environment because we all have the same goal,” he says.

“I just want to continue the legacy that started 50 years ago. We are well known (as a family) in the local area and throughout Huddersfield, being the first Asian shop in Huddersfield. We are part of the community and the shop has become a place to meet and socialise.”

Back in 1963 few people in Yorkshire could have predicted just how much influence immigrants from the Indian sub-continent would have on British life and culture.

“I think when we first started probably no one realised how things would pan out,” says Mr Ahmad, who also works as a finance adviser.

“There are so many Asian takeaways and shops it’s part of the English lifestyle.”

Mr Ahmad puts down the continuing success of Punjab Stores to it being part of the community and because the family name is trusted.

“We have got a good family name that people trust. We might not open 24 hours but people trust the quality and our customers plan their meals and work around the hours we are open.”

The shop itself has expanded several times over the years, taking over neighbouring properties as the greengrocery business added a halal butchery and branched out to selling a bigger range of groceries.

But it doesn’t just cater for one ethnic group.

When the Yorkshire Post visited the shop was busy with people from all backgrounds.

Zakia Chowdry, 66, widow of the founder of the business, still spends time on the shop floor although officially she has retired. She still likes to make sure the shelves have been stacked properly.

She recalled that the early days were a struggle.

“When we started we were among the first Asians here. There were not many Indians and Pakistanis when we arrived in Huddersfield but with immigration the communities started mixing.

“I have really enjoyed the last 50 years; it has been more of a home than a shop. I don’t look at it as a business because I see the customers as friends.”

Mrs Chowdry recalls the shop of the 1960s for the simplicity of the goods stocked – large bags of spices, rice and flour and other staples of the Asian diet. Nowadays, the chillis and speciality spices sit alongside Heinz baked beans and cans of fizzy pop.

Mrs Chowdry’s son-in-law Naseer Ahmad, 51, who manages the shop full time, sees it as his job to keep his diverse customer base as happy as possible.

“We have a mixed community here. We have Indian, English, Pakistani and West Indian customers. We have different generations in the shop and people still come to visit and to shop when they have moved to other parts of Huddersfield.”

And, although the shop was once robbed of cash and cigarettes, Mr Ahmad said he had never experienced racism.

The family are now preparing for a get-together on Friday to toast the last 50 years and to 
look forward to the next half-century.

For third generation family members like Zara Ahmad, 22,
it will be an emotional day as 
she looks back at the hard work and sacrifices of previous generations.

“I feel like the family has a lot of respect and we want to celebrate these achievements.

“It is a hard thing to go to a different country and set up a business and for it to carry on for 50 years. My grandparents worked very hard together to establish the business and get it running. They built a strong relationship with the community and became well respected. We are very proud of them.”